Maya women’s local weaving co-operatives

San Juan La Laguna, Lake Atitlan

There are many women’s weaving organizations that are smaller, more local, less accessible, and dealing primarily in Guatemalan quetzales rather than U.S. dollars or Visa cards. Such was the case with the weaving co-operatives that I visited in the village of San Juan La Laguna on Lake Atitlán.

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Vanessa (paradisetravelguatemala.com), Santiago and I took a lancha across Lake Atitlan to visit several women’s co-ops in San Juan La Laguna, Sololá. The people here are mostly Tz’utujil Maya.

Corazón del Lago is the first showroom that visitors come to as they walk up the hill from the launch boat dock.

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Mayan women demonstrate the weaving process on a back-strap loom, and are happy to answer questions about the materials and techniques that they use.

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They weave with traditional techniques, and they produce a popular resist-dyed scarf, which I have seen for sale on fair trade sites on the internet, available in several natural dyed colours.

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 Their scarves are back-strap loom woven, and they use only locally grown natural dyes. It is one of the smallest and most recent women’s weaving co-operatives, opening with two weavers in 2007.

The Asociación de Autoayuda Chinimayá (ASOAC) “specializes in natural dyes made by Tz’utujiles Mayan women from San Juan La Laguna.”

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There are about thirty active members, and they focus on recovering a tradition of dyeing thread with natural plants. ASOAC was created in 1992 by 10 artisan women who got a credit line from PPA, with funds from the KAS Foundation from Germany. The Association has also received support from FEDEPMA, and is currently funded with the help of HELVETAS, Guatemala.

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Asociación de Mujeres, Telar de Cintura Chinimaya focuses on the local natural cottons, which the woman below is spinning, and on natural dyes.

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 The natural undyed cotton (in shades ranging from creamy white through tan, rust and chestnut) is known locally as cuyuscate or ixcaco.

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On the way back to town in the lancha that afternoon, the two young women sitting in front of me epitomized the continuities as well as the changes that are constantly evolving in the language of clothing, a language which is so complex and subtle in the Guatemalan highlands. But more about that later…

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